Why Diversity should be separate from Human Resources


I don’t get into a lot of heated debates at conferences. Maybe I should, but I think that my socks intimidate people. And sometimes my zipper is down. I did, however, recently have a bit of a debate following one of my sessions. During the Q & A, someone shared that they were brand new in their role as VP of Diversity and Inclusion, and asked me what would be the first 3-4 things I would try to do if I was in their shoes. One of the very first things I said was that I would do everything possible to move Diversity & Inclusion outside of the Human Resources function.

The person who asked the question liked my answer but not everyone did, in fact a couple of folks tried to slap me around a little bit after the session was over and I think they were interpreting my answer as me taking a shot at the HR profession. I do strongly believe that in many organizations, D&I will be much better off outside of H.R., but it is not out of disrespect for the HR profession. Some of my best friends work in HR.

A few of the reasons why this makes sense to me…

  1. HR gets a free pass on D&I stuff. Inside most organizations, HR is assumed to “get it.” That is very often not the case, a whole bunch of HR folks do not get it, cannot find it and do not know where to look for it, especially D&I work that goes beyond compliance. Some of the most misinformed things I have heard said about D&I have come from HR folks. It is much easier to hold the HR function accountable from outside of it.
  2. HR is busy. Lets face it, HR is being pulled in a lot of different directions today. The HR function in your organization does not have the financial, political, or social capital to spare to support a real investment in Diversity and Inclusion. The vast majority of the time, HR ends up being an absentee landlord…it provides D&I a safe place to exist, but nothing in the way of real support.
  3. There is a lot of D&I work that simply has nothing to do with HR. There are big chunks of D&I work that are focused on branding, marketing, advertising, customer service, vendors, social technology, etc. Part of the reason that people think that D&I work is simply about compliance and policing bad behavior, is that it is by default stuck in HR.
  4. HR makes for a better strategic ally than a home.

I think that to be truly strategic and have the greatest impact, D&I work and responsibility needs to be highly distributed, and the right place to locate the infrastructure to support the work is going to depend on the shape and size of the organization and the organizational context related to this set of issues, but as a general rule…I think there is a lot of upside to separating D&I from the HR function.

Agree, disagree?

Be good to each other.

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  1. John Jorgensen

    Back to reality….where would you put it? Most companies are not big enough to create a whole new department for it. In those cases, if not HR, where?

  2. Joe Gerstandt

    Yeah, John…this is really not very relevant to most companies. Most are not big enough for a D&I department, most do not actually have a dedicated D&I resource at all…size is certainly a factor here. I personally like having someone that is responsible for culture & values that reports directly to the CEO with ambassadors in the business units.

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